Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bodies across borders (Brian McGilloway)

Talk about your liminal spaces! Here's how Brian McGilloway opens his much-discussed debut novel, Borderlands:

"It was not beyond reason that Angela Cashell's final resting place should straddle the border. Presumably, neither those who dumped her corpse, nor, indeed, those who had created the border between the North and South of Ireland in 1920, could understand the vagaries that meant that her body lay half in one country and half in another, in an area known as the borderlands."
But things get even more intriguing. Most readers, I suspect, will assume an identity between an author and a first-person narrator, and most authors, I suspect, know that readers will suspect this. Interesting, then, that McGilloway, born in Derry, Northern Ireland, a teacher there, and resident "near the Irish Borderlands," according to the novel's biographical blurb, writes in the persona of a garda, a member of the police from the Irish Republic.

Moreover, McGilloway delivers this information in a matter-of-fact manner calculated to achieve the greatest effect:

"When a crime occurs in an area not clearly in one jurisdiction or another, the Irish Republic's An Garda Siochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland work together, each offering all the practical help and advice they can, the lead detective determined generally by either the location of the body or the nationality of the victim.

"Consequently then, I stood with my colleagues from An Garda facing our northern counterparts through the snow-heavy wind ... "
I have not read much beyond these opening passages, but it seems to me McGilloway casts himself in the role of an outsider against a background that will scramble all notions of inside and outside right from the start.

OK, now that I've figured everything out, I'll go ahead and read the book. But I'll leave you with this question: What other characters combine the insider and outsider roles, or move between the two?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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15 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

This will be overly broad and simplified but...

...Isnt the PI is the ultimate insider/outsider because his role is that of a man with a foot in two worlds? He has contacts in the criminal world and contacts in the police. He gets information from the police and he can get information from the criminal element that the police can't. And the merging of the two information streams solves the case.

I know its reductive but that's all I got this morning :)

May 15, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

I just started reading this book myself a couple days ago.

It put me in mind of the Canadian movie, "Bon Cop Bad Cop," with an oddly similar opening in which a murder victim was found straddling a border - Quebec-Ontario.

The movie is mostly a comedy, though, and explores stereotypes.

As for the insider/outsider, I have to agree with Brian that the PI does that, and in many cases (most cases?) so does the "honest cop" in fiction, or at least the cop who is more concerned about solving the crime than with careerism (Rebus, maybe the most recent example - or the main character in John Burkett's Bangkok seris, I won't try and spell his name from memory ;).

May 15, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comments. Brian, How could I, having made broad comments left and right based on a book's first two pages, accuse anyone else of being reductive?

Sure, the P.I. is an insider/outsider in the way you suggest. So are police themselves in stories that explore their murky reliance on informants. One example is Bill James' Harpur and Iles series, which I will plug any chance I can get.

John, that movie might be worth looking up, and I like the title. What would it have been called in French release?

I've read a few more chapters of Borderlands since I made the post. McGilloway uses the border divide as a kind of comic/dramatic spice. He'll have a character say, half-humorously, something like "What kind of wild men do you have there in the north?" or "You shouldn't even be up here in the north." What larger resonance this will have remains to be seen. The books certainly raises lots of interesting expectations with a title like that. The title has the ringing drama of some of the old Westerns. Just don't me to name any particular titles it reminds me of, but it has that ring to it.

May 15, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Peter, I think it was called "Bon Cop Bad Cop" in French as well - the movie is bilingual.

At least, all the billboards around Montreal only ever said, "Bon Cop Bad Cop."

May 15, 2008  
OpenID maxine said...

Jack Irish (Peter Temple's character).
Events are filtered through his inner life -- emotionally he doesn't belong anywhere and culturally he is a hangover from the old days, alienated by all the modern stuff.
The footy team is the symbol of this.
Yet he's a solicitor who gets by on professional work when he's not being a detective or woodworking. He is part of the society that he also operates outside (via Cyril Wootton, the "employer" of Jack's investigative services, or Harry Strang, runner of the horseracing syndicate).

May 15, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, and the Office de la Langue Francaise had no objection to " ... Cop, Bad Cop"?

May 15, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I always wondered about Jack Irish and his association with Henry Strang. Is something dodgy going on there?

May 15, 2008  
Blogger Gerard Brennan said...

In Jason Johnson's Woundlicker his protagonist, Fletcher Fee, is a real outsider who tires of looking in and begins to take action. His status is due to the fact that his parents were mixed religiously (catholic/protestant). Makes for some great insights into the Troubles in their dying throes.

gb

May 16, 2008  
OpenID maxine said...

"I always wondered about Jack Irish and his association with Henry Strang. Is something dodgy going on there?"

Yes!

May 16, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerard, I just read your review of Woundlicker and linked from there to a well-known online seller's description. Like you, I may not be the biggest fan of violence that makes me cringe, but the discussions of the book are compelling, all right. Among other things, it sounds as if the book may be a salutary reminder that evil and violence lurk beneath even the sunniest of feel-good situations. And what a harsh, vivid, intimate and violent title, full of blood and self-pity.

I was a reminded of a recent discussion I heard with Philadelphia crime writers about the city is such a good setting for crime stories. I wrote that:

"Civic boosters might not like what the interviewees had to say, though, which buttresses another notion floating about the conference: that noir is and should be a subversive genre."

May 16, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Maxine, Harry Strang is probably the most compelling subplot I know of in crime fiction, a series for another writer, and perhaps potentially so for Peter Temple.

I suppose the centerpiece of what Strang and Jack Irish are up to is placing strategic bets on horse races to manipulate the odds in their favor. But, of course, Strang and company also own, train and otherwise work with horses. It's a fascinating enterprise, and that Temple never spells out precisely what they are doing, never eagerly explains the scheme, makes it all the more fascinating.

Strang is probably not the least of Peter Temple's accomplishments. The physical description of the character is not what one would expect of a former jockey.

May 16, 2008  
Blogger Barbara said...

And then there's Dexter, who is a blood spatter analyst by day, blood splatterer by night...

May 17, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, that's about as inside/outside as one can get. I haven't read the book or seen the television series yet, but I suspect I might investigate both because the concept is so intriguing. One wants to see how close they get to the edge without toppling over.

May 17, 2008  
Anonymous Free said...

I think I will have to read this book soon.

June 01, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian McGilloway said that he wanted the Troubles to be represented only by a "disembodied voice talking about the past." I think he manages that, which lends the book a certain tension throughout. Let me know what you think once you've read it.

June 01, 2008  

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